Government employees in Swaziland are demanding better pay, but few people showed up as a protest was called outside parliament on Thursday.
Heavy security deployments scared many people off, in the country where political parties are banned and little public dissent is tolerated.
Public servants have been striking for more than a month demanding a raise of 4.5 per cent, but authorities are refusing to increase their salaries.
On Wednesday nearly 3,000 teachers took to the streets in two towns of Siketi and Umhlanga, according to Sibongile Mazibuko, the president of Swaziland National Association of Teachers.
Police have used rubber bullets, water cannon and batons to break up marches during the strike.
Thousands of teachers are now on what they call a “go slow” – showing up to work but without teaching. They have been given Monday as a deadline to get back to work, or they will be all be fired.
But Mazibuko said they would not resume teaching until their demands are met.
“Teachers will not teach even under the barrel of the gun. We are not deterred,” he said.
In February the International Monetary Fund urged the government to cut back on public spending and reduce the size of the civil service as the economy stagnated, with growth at just 0.3 per cent. The government chose to freeze salaries.
Workers blame the country’s problems on the state-funded extravagance of King Mswati, rated by Forbes magazine as among the world’s richest royals, and his refusal to implement democratic reforms.
More than 60 per cent of the country’s 1.1 million people live on less than $2 a day.
The government said on Wednesday Swaziland may reverse a controversial pay rise that legislators awarded themselves.
The so-called Circular 1 was passed in 2010 to give members of parliament a 30 per cent salary hike. The law also included the first-ever lucrative end-term packages for cabinet members.
“Parliament has taken it up. Cabinet has discussed it,” government spokesman Percy Simelane told the AFP news agency. “I believe if they discover that ‘yes, it must go,’ it should.”
The 95 parliamentarians in Africa’s last absolute monarchy earn more than 20,000 emalangeni ($2,400) a month.
The legislators’ big paychecks “could be contributing towards the hefty salary bill that we have,” Simelane said. “If it is not [withdrawn] amid the outcry … discontent will be very rife.”